7 of the Most Important Slasher Movie Scenes
10/1/2020 • 4 min read
It's the spooky season which means there is officially no reason to spend the month of October watching anything other than horror movies. (We will, however, understand if the general character of 2020 so far has you looking towards friendlier fare.) Some of our October viewing always goes back to the foundations of horror, which include both early classics like the Universal Monsters, and '70s and '80s titles which pushed horror into new directions.
More specifically, we're thinking about slasher movies, that subgenre born in the '60s, raised in the '70s, and which dominated the 1980s thanks to several — pardon the pun — monster hit series. Here are 7 of the most important slasher movie scenes.
1. Psycho (1960)
Without this movie, there might not be slasher movies, and the shower scene is not just a turning point in this history of horror — it is one of the best-known sequences in movie history. After embezzling money from work in Arizona, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) flees to meet her lover in California. While spending the night at the remote Bates Motel, Marion discovers that the hotel manager, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), isn't the mild-mannered sap he appears to be. Unfortunately for her, it's the last thing she discovers. Horror would never be the same.
2. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Director and co-writer Tobe Hooper created the most gruesome family dinner ever thrown up onto a movie screen but that isn't the most effective part of THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. When the Hardesty siblings and their friends Kirk, Pam, and Jerry return to the dilapidated old Hardesty homestead, they stumble across a house inhabited by a strange, maniacal family while trying to find some gas for their car. Kirk is the first to meet Leatherface in a sequence that is shocking, sudden, and brutally matter-of-fact. The first encounter is so quick that it leaves audiences reeling — and sets up not only the unsettling hour that follows but a legion of future imitators.
3. Halloween (1978)
This is the iconic slasher movie and for good reason. Filmmaker John Carpenter deliberately put audiences in the shoes and even the mask of killer Michael Myers in his masterfully simple and elegant shocker. While Myers escapes the institution where he has been confined for most of his life, unsuspecting teens in his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois are going about their regular lives on Halloween night. After Michael has already begun his murderous rampage, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) leaves her house to see what's up with her friends across the street. We know that they're dead, and Carpenter relies on that awareness to build terrific suspense. Laurie discovers a horrific tableau of terrors before Myers strikes. The entire sequence bridges Hitchcock and Hooper, which is part of why HALLOWEEN still stands tall.
4. Tenebre (1982)
Just as PSYCHO jumpstarted slasher movies in the US, over in Italy the giallo subgenre — named for its relationship to paperback thrillers with yellow ("giallo," in Italian) covers — was about to boom. In 1970 Dario Argento, now best known for the original SUSPIRIA, made the first significant giallo, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, which featured his own ultra-stylish precursor to the slasher movie. In TENEBRAE, produced just as slashers were beginning to really take off in the US, Argento grappled with whether or not a storyteller might be complicit in violence inspired by horror books and movies. the movie's climax begins with a woman in a white room, wearing a white dress, attacked in a way that turns an entire room red. It's a twisted, imperfect movie with some unforgettable shocks.
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Freddy Krueger eventually became a wisecracking cult icon, but his movie debut is scary and stomach-churning even today. Wes Craven had already made his mark on horror with his grimy 1972 movie THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET looked, in some ways, like a more easygoing movie. Anyone who thought as much was in for a shock when sleeping teenager Tina is attacked by Freddy in a dream, and dragged bloody and screaming up the wall and onto the ceiling. There's nothing cute or funny about the scene, which harkens back to Craven's early days making grueling horror. Freddy's first outing was a massive hit that helped studio New Line, affectionately dubbed "the house that Freddy built," become a major player in the years that followed, leading eventually to the production of THE LORD OF THE RINGS movies. Yeah, that's right — without this nightmare, we might never have gone to Middle-earth.
6. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Other movies created the slasher movie formula, but the FRIDAY THE 13th series streamlined it. There's a camp (usually) and a killer (always) and a roster of new victims-to-be. But even by the point of this fourth and, at the time, presumably last movie, the series was still evolving. Killer Jason Voorhees had only donned his signature hockey mask in the previous movie, for example. THE FINAL CHAPTER featured future stars Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman, and the latter actually provides the movie's freakiest scene. Feldman's character, Tommy Jarvis, is a horror movie enthusiast and amateur makeup artist, which comes in handy when Tommy has to fend off Jason. Their encounter is one of the oddest and most disturbing of the entire series.
7. Scream (1996)
Wes Craven pulled a hat trick with SCREAM, which crowned him as a director with genre-defining horror movies released in three consecutive decades. The meta-commentary of TENEBRAE is updated and perfected with this fast, funny examination of horror movies and horror fans. (Craven had, in fact, experimented with meta-commentary in his previous movie, too: The underrated and often overlooked WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE.) And, like PSYCHO, Craven kicked things off with an early surprise. The movie's opening scene features a conversation between young Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) and a mysterious caller. The phone call becomes increasingly bizarre and ominous, and Casey realizes to her dismay that the person on the phone is a lot closer to her than she first assumed. It's a bravura sequence that proclaimed horror's renewed vitality at the movies.
Want to read more about the history of PSYCHO?
All images courtesy of Universal Pictures, New Line, Miramax, Paramount Pictures, and Synapse Films.